WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. on Monday sought to blame Hamas for the deaths of at least 55 Palestinians killed by Israel during anti-occupation rallies along the Gaza Strip’s eastern border.
"Hamas is responsible for these tragic deaths," White House spokesman Raj Shah told reporters. "Their rather cynical exploitation of the situation is what is leading to these deaths and we want them stopped.”
Asked if Israel bears any burden to use restraint, Shah replied: "No." He did not say anything about Israeli responsibility for the killing of protesters.
Thousands of Palestinians gathered on the Gaza Strip’s eastern border since early Monday morning to take part in the protests aimed at commemorating Israel's establishment, and protest the relocation of the U.S.'s Israel Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Since the border rallies began on March 30, more than 90 Palestinian demonstrators have been martyred by cross-border Israeli gunfire, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.
The rallies are to culminate on Tuesday, May 15, the 70th anniversary of Israel's establishment — an event Palestinians refer to as the "Nakba" or "the Catastrophe".
Last week, the Israeli government said the ongoing border protests constituted a “state of war” in which international humanitarian law did not apply.
Amid the mounting casualty toll, however, the UN urged Israeli security forces to "exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire".
"The Secretary-General is profoundly alarmed by the sharp escalation of violence in the occupied Palestinian territory and the high number of Palestinians killed and injured in the Gaza protests," spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement, referring to Antonio Guterres.
"With tensions high and more demonstrations expected in the coming days, it is imperative that everyone show the utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life, including ensuring that all civilians and particularly children are not put in harm’s way," Haq added.